Linux: Installation, Configuration, Use

What new users need is a friendly guide to show them the ropes.
Making it Useful

The third section of the book focuses on teaching someone how to actually use the system. An entire chapter is devoted to the bash shell and the basics of writing bash scripts. Following this is a 50-page command reference, covering just about every executable that comes with the standard Red Hat distribution.

Having established the environment one executes commands in and the commands one can execute, subsequent chapters cover the use of specific programs. First comes a chapter on tools and utilities, including Midnight Commander, various PostScript tools, xv and xgrab.

After this, an entire chapter is devoted to Emacs, starting with the basics of finding your way around the editor and going right up through advanced issues like macros. Next comes a chapter on LaTeX2E, again starting with the basics but ultimately at least touching on more advanced features. Between these two chapters, the user is left with enough information to begin word processing—albeit in a non-WYSIWYG environment—under Linux.

This section finishes with an extremely useful overview of how to get a Linux box up and running on the network. In addition to holding the user's hand through the dreadful process of setting up a PPP script and other such details, the book provides an overview of web, FTP, TELNET, e-mail and news clients available for Linux. The section on e-mail even covers sendmail configuration, and includes instructions for setting up a machine to use sendmail and popclient to send and retrieve mail from a remote system using PPP.

Going Further

Finally, the book spends about 100 pages showing the user several different environments in which he can write programs—the real power of the Linux environment. Rather than delving into the mysteries of C and C++, this section focuses on more “mundane” environments—bash, Tcl/Tk and Emacs Lisp. In all three cases, the emphasis is more on giving the user enough information to extend his day-to-day working environment, rather than on extensive programming.

The book winds up with a set of appendices that cover the vagaries of various distributions and deal with updates since the original, German edition of the book was published.

A Tough Job (But Someone Has to Do It)

This kind of book cannot be easy to write and must have been even harder to translate. That said, I think Mr. Kofler and whoever translated the book from its original German have done a fairly good job. I've been administering and programming UNIX systems of various stripes for years and have been running Linux both at home and at work on a daily basis for quite some time. I still found Mr. Kofler's book immediately useful, enabling me to easily tackle a couple of issues I'd been putting off, waiting for a block of learning time.

I have, I think, only two complaints about the book. The first is that it's already slightly out of date: Red Hat 4.1 is over a year old. On the other hand, Red Hat 4.1 is also a solid release—it's the release I was already running on my laptop, and I've had very few problems with it. However, some things made the age of this release noticeable. For example, the section on setting up an automated script to dial in with PPP, send queued mail, retrieve mail from a POP box and disconnect, was very useful. But it relied on an older POP program—popclient—rather than the newer and more broadly useful (not to mention supported) fetchmail.

The second complaint is that the translation to English is not quite as good as it could be. There's nothing embarrassing about the translation; it's just not quite fluid sometimes. Many readers won't even notice, but as a copy editor, I do.

As an example, on page 141, preparing to describe how to break up a Linux system into multiple partitions, I found this sentence: “The creation of additional Linux partitions is a far-reaching intervention in the Linux system.” Now, there's nothing wrong with that sentence, from either a syntactic or a semantic point of view, but the choice of words (“far-reaching intervention”) seems a little strange. I found things like this a bit distracting, but again, that may be because I look for them as a matter of habit.

Overall, I found this book extremely useful with a very positive attitude and a wide range of topics covered. As both a step-by-step guide and a reference, it is a good place for an aspiring Linux user to start.

Michael Scott Shappe is a somewhat frazzled software engineer for AetherWorks Corporation, a start-up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. When he's not writing reviews or copy editing for Linux Journal, he's reading—and attempting to write—fiction, or attending Society for Creative Anachronism events. He can be reached at Mikey@Hundred-Acre-Wood.com, and his web page is at http://www.14850.com/web/mikey/.

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